The Original Emily in Paris
Writer Emily Monaco takes us to Naples
Do you love cheese? Me too. So does Emily Monaco, who loves cheese so much that she moved to Paris, where she works as a travel writer and tour guide.
Her work has appeared in the BBC, Paris by Mouth, Atlas Obscura, Food & Wine, Food52, Saveur, and more. She’s also served as a juror for international cheese competitions (yum) including the World Cheese Awards and the Frankfurt International Trophy, and she pens a regular cheese column for My French Life. Some of her favorite stories include an exploration of the mass exodus of top chefs from Paris to the countryside (BBC), a think piece on whether Parisian bistros actually exist anymore (Life & Thyme), a deep dive into the changing grammar of French cuisine (Whetstone), the story of the cheese aged in caves made by lava flows (Atlas Obscura), a profile on the terroir-minded brewers walking the walk of sustainable beer (Good Beer Hunting), and an exploration of the French obsession with egg-mayonnaise (Food52).
Her newsletter with tips, tricks, and bites from Paris comes out every Tuesday (with a subscribers-only deep dive into the Parisian food scene every other Thursday).
“Travel is my work – and I love it!” says Emily. “My goal in my writing is to serve as a translator of sorts: profiling the people behind our food system, whether they're innovating, preserving local heritage, or just making things that are delicious and sustain us body and soul. Getting to meet and spend time with these people is the part of my job I love most.”
When she’s not traveling for work, she’s traveling for fun, visiting London, Los Angeles, Cannes, the Corbières, Nice, and New York. Find out her favorite places and follow along on a recent trip to Naples, below.
Do you have a suitcase or bag you love?
For anything less than a week, I like to pack in a Jansport backpack with multiple pockets. And I always bring more canvas tote bags than I think I need – they are so good for keeping dirty laundry separate from clean, for an impromptu grocery run, or for keeping messy/stinky foods (cheeses) from infecting the rest of my stuff.
What’s the one thing that’s always in your carry-on?
A Nalgene. I am a master of the security-line water chug, and there's never enough water on the plane for me.
What’s the one thing you never travel without?
A book. (OK, OK… multiple books.) I usually try to find a novel or a work of long-form narrative non-fiction set in my destination! [Editor’s Note: may I suggest my roundup of novels from around the world]
What’s the best thing you watched on the plane recently?
I save most of my media consumption for the plane, and that usually means catching up on sitcoms I never take the time to watch when I'm at home. Recently I watched a lot of late-season Insecure, which made me want to go back and watch from the beginning.
What’s your go-to travel uniform?
Wide-leg trousers and a massive jumper. I try to wear the most voluminous staples I'll want on the trip with me so I have more room in my bag for books.
Any specific toiletries or beauty products you always bring with you?
I love Ursa Major's face cream, and they make a travel size that's perfect for combatting the drying air on planes.
Most luxurious trip you’ve ever been on?
A work trip to Saulieu sur Mer to stay in one of the newly refurbished "cocoon suites" at the storied Bernard Loiseau in Burgundy. I arrived to bubbles and pastries in the room, and I got to dine alone at their Michelin-starred restaurant. I have never felt fancier.
Least luxurious trip you’ve ever been on?
I don't usually travel in luxury, so there are so many. But the time I decided to stay in an Earl Court hotel in London with sheets covered in hair and dirty walls, and the front desk folks refused to change anything or refund me… that wasn't great. I'll add to that the time I backpacked through Europe with friends in college and woke up in our Roman hostel in 35-degree heat to find that the folks we were sharing our room with were sitting on their bed in their underwear eating uncooked tortellini out of the package. Oh, and maybe the time in Amsterdam that I decided I was done with hostels as I showered with my feet submerged in at least five inches of water that had not come from my own ablutions.
Do you have a good story about the kindness of strangers when traveling?
I do – and I’ve written about it here. But in short, I was driving across the Auvergne and aquaplaned into a ditch, and a man driving by who happened to own a Land Rover dealership came and towed me out. I gave him dry-cured sausage to say thank you.
What’s the best bar you’ve ever been to on your travels?
There's a totally whatever Irish bar in central Nice serving bad, icy-cold rosé, but I spent a night there scream-singing to live rock covers sung with brio by a gender-bending singer with the most incredible range, alongside a revolving door cast of strangers, and it may go down in history as the best night I've ever had.
What’s the weirdest or most surprisingly delicious food you’ve tried?
This is kind of my job, so it's hard to pick just one, especially as I never say no when a producer offers me a taste of anything, no matter how odd (or offputting) it is. The weirdest was probably when I tried horse as the focus of a Vice piece; it wasn't surprising or surprisingly delicious, it was just kind of beefy. The most surprisingly delicious ones were probably andouillette in mustard sauce at a bouchon in Lyon, savory Swiss chard pie in Nice, and Maroilles dipped in coffee, also for a Vice piece. And not that you asked, but since we're on the subject, the weirdest thing I found most disappointing was deep-fried puffer fish in Japan. It wasn't bad; it was just meh.
What’s the most incredible meal you’ve ever had?
Dinner at La Côte d'Or in Burgundy. Not just the food, but the attention, the room, the ambiance, the fact that, since I was dining alone, they put a silver crab on the table to keep me company. It was just exquisite, and I think that because I was on my own, I enjoyed it even more than if I had been with other people. Some meals are delicious because of the people you're sharing them with, but when there's this much technicity and attention paid to each component, being in my own head and analyzing as I tasted was pretty special and felt like the ultimate indulgence. (Introvert much?)
What’s the most underrated foodie destination?
Nice. It's not nearly as famous as some other French cities like Paris or Lyon for food, but I love the vibrancy of the produce, the simplicity of the street food, and the omnipresence of anchovies on pretty much anything. I always go to René Socca for socca, pissaladière, and tourte de blettes when I'm there (I also like Chez Pipo), but just wandering through the Cours Saleya market is such a wonderful adventure.
Have any vacation meals inspired you to make your own version at home?
I loved having miso soup with every meal when I was in Japan, and now it's how I break my fast every day I'm not traveling.
What’s your favorite kind of souvenir to bring home?
Food. Mostly cheese.
Do you have any art/furniture/decor that you bought while traveling? Where did you buy it?
My dad painted a picture of a cliffside view from Manarola from a photo that my girlfriend took while we were there on holiday, and it's my favorite piece of art I own. My salad tongs are from the night market in Cannes, and somewhere, I have a piece of calligraphy I did in Kyoto with the kanji for "feel."
Have you ever regretted *not* buying something on vacation? If so, what was it and where did you see it?
I so regret not buying a black-and-white photograph of a woman eating spaghetti I saw in Menton. It was gorgeous, but it cost a bit more than I wanted to spend, plus I wanted to go in the sea and was afraid it would be ruined. The sea was glorious that day, and the views over the town were spectacular, but I still wish I had that photo.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever bought on a trip?
A little red blown-glass dragon for my girlfriend, who was raised in Wales, at a family-run glassblowing facility on Murano. I almost missed the boat back, but bringing Bertie with me was worth it.
Where’s your favorite beach?
I love the sandy beaches on the la Bocca side of Cannes and the beach at Gros (in San Sebastiàn) and the beaches of Westhampton where I spent my childhood summers… but honestly, I'll be happy on any beach.
Where’s your favorite place to visit in the summer?
The South of France!
Where do you like to spend the holidays?
Anywhere that feels like Stars Hollow.
Is there anywhere that you like to visit over and over again?
My first point of entry when I moved to France in 2007 was Cannes, and I return every summer (Covid excepting) with one of my closest friends, also called Emily, who I met there.
What destinations or travel experiences are at the top of your bucket list?
Ooh… India, Thailand, Mexico (again), Sicily.
What websites/tools do you use to plan a trip?
Showing my Millennial… but Instagram. I use collections to save things that I want to do (OK, OK, let's be honest – things I want to eat), and then I'll often create a Google Doc grouping POIs by neighborhood. I also usually drop pins on Google Maps so that when I'm on the go in my destination, I can quickly find the places I'd researched ahead of time. [Editor’s Note: We’re also big fans of Google Maps here at Alibi - paid subscribers get a link to the Alibi Guide to the World, with all the places mentioned in these newsletters.]
Do you have any travel superstitions or pre-travel rituals?
Pack as late as possible.
Favorite travel hack?
Walk everywhere. This is already my motto where I live, in Paris, but as much as I can when I'm traveling, I eschew taxis and even public transport in favor of taking a bit longer to get places and hopefully (usually) stumbling upon some unplanned gold along the way. I know this isn't possible for everyone, and I feel really privileged that my body has continued to make this approach to travel possible for me.
What’s one thing you always make time for when traveling?
Writing. I realized after trying to take a few "vacations" that when I take too much time away from my writing, I don't feel better, I just feel like a tightly coiled spring. My morning routine, whether I'm at home or traveling for work or traveling for fun is the thing that grounds me in myself, so it remains unchanged no matter where I am: Get up, drink a cup of coffee while reading a few pages of a paper book, journal in a paper journal, and then spend at least a few minutes with whatever longform fiction project I'm currently working on. (Right now, it's a novel about cheese.) If I'm at home or traveling for work, this is when I finally check emails and begin my workday; if I'm not, then this is when I set out on an adventure!
Any travel experiences you WON’T do?
Anything that requires jumping from a height.
The Alibi Guide to Naples
A visit to the land of pizza with a cheese expert.
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